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The Eye of the Eagle

John Donne and the Legacy of Ignatius Loyola


Francesca Knox Bugliani

John Donne’s family were committed Catholics. His two uncles were Jesuits. One of them, Jasper Heywood, was the leader of the Jesuit mission in England, while Donne’s mother was a recusant who was forced to leave the country in 1595. In this detailed and historically contextualized study, the author argues that Donne was greatly influenced in his journey from militant Roman Catholicism to ordination in the Church of England by Ignatius of Loyola’s religious ideals and in particular by his Spiritual Exercises.
The book describes the pervasive influence of the Spiritual Exercises on late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Catholicism and Protestantism. In this light, it offers a close reading of Donne’s preordination religious poems and prose with constant reference to the sermons. These works are usually read through the tinted lenses of ‘Catholicism’ or ‘Protestantism’ or other religious ‘-isms’. The reading proposed here argues instead that Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises were for Donne a means to transcend the simplistic and perilous divisions of contemporary Catholicism and Protestantism.


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Chapter Two - Discretion and Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises in Donne’s Times -21


Chapter Two Discretion and Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises in Donne’s Times Confession is sound wisdom and then, discretion is, to wash, and discerne, and debate and examine all our future actions, and all the circumstances, that by this spirit of discretion we may see, where the sting, and venome of every particular action lies. — John Donne, The Sermons Are there any historical or biographical reasons for thinking that Donne might have known and been inf luenced by the Catholic tradition of dis- cretion and Ignatian spirituality? This chapter suggests that there are. The first part explains how the idea and practice of discretion circulated among sixteenth-century Catholics and that facets of the Catholic tradition of discretion merged in Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises.1 The second outlines 1 I use ‘discretion’ with the meaning that it had in Donne’s times. It included, but was not limited to, the discernment of spirits. The modern concept of discernment, as found in M. Ivens, Understanding the Spiritual Exercises (Herefordshire: Gracewing, 1998), 205–9, and M.A. McIntosh, Discernment and Truth. Spirituality and Theology (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2004), 5–25, is very similar to ‘discretion’ as used in this chapter; see B. Ward, ‘Discernment: A Rare Bird’, The Way Supplement 64 (1989), 10–18: 10. For historical or contemporary general studies on aspects of discretion/discernment relevant to this chapter, see the entries on ‘Discretio’ and ‘Discernimiento’ in Cebollada (ed.), Diccionario de Espiritualidad Ignaciana, 623–36, 607–11; ‘Discernement des esprits’ and ‘Discrétion’, in M. Viller (dir.) et...

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